Yesterday morning, I attended and volunteered at the 2nd Annual NAMI Parent and Caregiver Conference in Los Angeles. I first learned about NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) in grad school and attended a support group then, but this was my first conference attendance, and I was blown away by the 200+ turnout. Doctors, social workers, and other professionals were available to answer questions, and speakers gave practical presentations about navigating the county and insurance systems.
What is NAMI?
NAMI is a national mental health organization that started in 1979 and offers resources for families, caregivers, and those diagnosed with mental illness. They advocate for public policy changes and aim to decrease stigma while increasing awareness about mental health, early intervention, and education. They have lists of local support groups for individuals and support groups for family members, as well as a toll-free NAMI HelpLine at (800)-950-6264 to get resources, information, and help from an actual person. Their educational programs often include free classes at your local NAMI affiliate or community settings. Check out their blog to read articles written by those with a lived experience and expertise about treating mental health.
Mental Health vs. Mental Illness
A useful tip that I learned from this conference was to use "mental health" more often than "mental illness" when spreading the awareness of mental health. Mental illness tends to have a (stronger) stigma attached to it as "illness" has a negative connotation and implies that it's something that will be hard to fix. On the other hand, mental health sounds more positive and proactive and is more welcomed as a topic during conversations. So try using "mental health issues" or "mental health" in your language next time to talk to someone about this topic and see if there's a decrease in the occurrence of that back-stepping that people tend to do when they hear "mental illness."
Guardian Scholars: College Support for Foster Youth
My volunteering responsibilities yesterday included presenting the speakers, Sergio Bercera and Rosina Guzman-Ehrlich, for the "Foster Parents and Caregivers: A Guide to Success." They both are working on tying together support for children and adults who have been in the foster system, higher education, and NAMI. Many people who have been in the foster system have suffered trauma and mental health issues and could benefit from NAMI's resources, and at the same time, many also often need financial assistance. Sergio and Rosina aim to increase awareness of these resources on college campuses in Los Angeles, mainly at West LA College, so that these students are more likely to apply, attend, and succeed in gaining higher education.
I thought it was interesting that such support programs and resources are available for students who have been in the foster system in colleges and universities in California. The term Guardian Scholars is used to describe these programs, as Foster Students/Youth has some stigma attached to it. Colleges all across California have a Guardian Scholars Program. You can find more information about the involved colleges here: http://www.fosteryouthhelp.ca.gov/pdfs/guardianscholars.pdf, or contact the college that you interested in for more information.
Now, if only the Guardian Scholars program was regularly presented at high schools all over the nation so that the kids who often say,"I can't afford it" or "It's too hard" can stop believing in these self-fulfilling prophecies and become more likely to apply and attend.
If you know anybody who is or has been in the foster system and is thinking about going to college or university, send along this information. Higher education, which is so needed at this time and age to gain employment and decent living, is not impossible.
Occupational Therapy and NAMI
Occupational therapists also actually started off as mental health professionals, and since they are not recognized by NAMI in their list of mental health professionals, I will aim to spread more awareness about OT for mental health. Check out this
For a bit of Damon news, I will be speaking to Rosina and her department at West LA College about possibly offering pro bono wellness counseling and occupational therapy services for students at West LA College to further enhance their ability to succeed in school. Will keep you guys posted!